My Favorite Talks at 99U

  • May 20, 2016
  • INK Team

A couple weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the 99U Conference, a collaborative event for creatives centered on shifting focus from idea generation to idea execution. I’m honestly a bit overwhelmed and would even go as far to say it was life changing. I left inspired to take the insights, new processes, and moving stories learned and heard to turn my life upside down. Quite frankly, I’m a little emotionally drained.

The two-day event was packed with speakers, master classes, studio sessions and site visits around NYC designed to teach attendees how to embrace creative freedom and execute on ideas. Here are some personal favorites and lessons learned:

Ryan Carson’s Talk that Kicked Off the Conference

Ryan Carson. Photo by

Ryan Carson. Photo by

As the CEO of Treehouse, Ryan and his team only work 32 hours in a week. No, that’s not cramming 40 hours into 4 days – they really only work 32 hours. How do they do it? By getting shit done. Ryan has an interesting, and a bit emotional, way of focusing his efforts. He asked us a simple question: what impact do I want to have on the working world? He then challenged us to think in terms of what and who really matters to you. He had us envision our funeral and think about what these important people would say about you. Based on that list of people and the roles you play with each, you then list goals under each role to ensure that you’re living life in a way that matters to those you care about.

My husband was a person on my list, and that makes one of my roles a wife. I would want my husband to talk about me as kind, understanding, loving, and supportive. Therefore my goals are to be kind, understanding, loving and supportive in my relationship. Then, Ryan asked us to write these goals in our calendars and tasked us with checking in every Monday to update them based on what you need to accomplish that week to meet said goals.

To put this in a business perspective, I would want my client to say I was passionate, diligent, hardworking, and on top of my game. So, what should my weekly goals look like to make that possible? How does that propel me to stay motivated in my client work that week? The end goal of this is that Ryan’s approach allows him to devote his time to what he really needs to accomplish over four days. It enables him to get shit done.

Side note: For recommended reading, Ryan also mentioned the Wait But Why blog.

The Five Question Leader on Creating Better Habits

Coaching Habit

Michael Bungay Stanier, the Senior Partner of Box of Crayons, had some great advice on how to break bad habits. Stanier says learning to be a good coach to your team and team members won’t mean anything if you can’t put it into practice and identify new better habits. Think: checking email whenever you hear the ding or rolling over and checking email first thing in the morning. To change your habits, Stanier notes you need to identify the trigger, identify the old habit, and define the new behavior desired.

1. Identifying the Trigger – If you don’t know what the moment is, you’re going to continually miss it. For example, when a team member comes to me with questions.

2. Identifying the Old Habit – Articulate the old habit, so you know what you’re trying to stop doing. For example, I tell them what I think the solution to the problem would be, or how to respond to the client.

3. Defining the New Behavior – This should take under 60 seconds to do. For example, I will ask them “what ideas do you have?”

To put it all together, when a team member comes to me with questions, I won’t instantly tell them how to solve the problem at hand or how to respond, but will ask them what ideas they have. If you want to read more, Michael is the author of The Coaching Habit which details five key questions and dives more into changing bad habits.

Ayse Birsel on Design the Life You Love

Design the Life You Love

Designer Ayse Birsel was perhaps the most inspiring individual I met here. Her session was centered on teaching us how to create a meaningful life using her personal creative process. She walked us through a process of deconstructing our lives, understanding what’s most important to us by identifying our values, and then reconstructing our lives based on our newly found priorities or perspectives. Unfortunately there aren’t any easy takeaways from her offsite – you have to go through step-by-step to understand the full impact of her creative process. If this sounds interesting to you, check out

Those are only a few highlights. I could go on and on – if you’re interested in reading more, check out 99U’s blog on The 30 Things We Learned at the 2016 99U Conference.




Design the Live You Love

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